Happy New Year!!
So many of my friends and folks I follow have been sharing their resolutions, plans, and goals for 2017. I’ve spent this week working through my own goal-setting game plan, and I now have 8 specific goals that I’m excited to work on this year.
And I finally decided to take the plunge and order an Anchored Press planner for 2017. I might write a more detailed post about that in the future, but so far I am loving it! The short version: In addition to the usual schedule and to-dos, it has a daily devotional and other tools to help nurture your spiritual life.
One of those tools is a goal setting page in the front. There’s a spot at the top of the page to write a Bible verse for the year. Honestly, I’m not usually the sort of person to choose a single word or verse to define my year, but I am the sort of person who hates to leave things blank (haha). I decided to choose something that would help me have the right frame of mind when I come back to reflect on the goals below it.
After a few days, I finally settled on Psalm 127:1a:
Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.
You’re probably more familiar with verses 3-5 of this Psalm, which talks about how children are a blessing from the Lord. But when I read Psalm 127 for the first time a few years ago, I was most struck by the first two verses. Altogether they read:
Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.
The reason these verses struck me the way they did was because of how they contrast with Proverbs 31. At that time, I was either engaged or newly married, and like many Christian women looking for advice on being a good wife, I kept coming across articles about the Proverbs 31 woman. They were either talking about how to be the perfect Proverbs 31 wife, or how we shouldn’t feel pressured to be the perfect Proverbs 31 wife. I tended to agree with this second assessment, but still felt that the woman described in this passage was a good ideal to aspire to. I wrote some of the verses on note cards, put them in my planner, or made them a phone background. Some of my favorites were:
She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens.
She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
These verses encouraged me to be intentional with my time, careful not to waste it. It’s a reminder I still sometimes need.
But I am prone to begin believing that my worth or salvation are dependent on my ability to keep these tenants. In some seasons of life, I have felt that every evening I wasted away on the internet or morning I slept past my alarm was some permanent black mark on my record. I have judged myself on how many to-do list items I had checked off at the end of each day.
So, in one of these seasons, the words of Psalm 127 spoke straight to my heart. “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil.” In my fear of the “bread of idleness,” I had been stuffing myself with a different bread, and not realizing the toll it was taking on my soul.
I know I’m not the only one. In our culture, Christian and otherwise, we pride ourselves on productivity and business and will power. Anxiety disorders are becoming more common as we place more stress on ourselves than we’re designed to handle long-term.
But God’s word teaches a different way.
The Bible tells us this: That we are indeed held to a high standard, higher even than what we could come up with for ourselves. That we are not capable of meeting this benchmark. BUT, that God himself came and fulfilled those requirements on our behalf so that we can walk in freedom. It is not by our own works, but by the work of Christ in us, that we are saved.
“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
I’m so glad that it’s not all up to me, because I am not as “good” as I wish I were!
Today during our worship service, our pastor preached on Hosea 6. In verses 1-3, the Israelites speak of returning to God, but God knows that they cannot keep a promise to remain faithful. He even says that their love is like the morning dew: here one moment, gone the next (verse 4).
The truth is, we are like the Israelites too, making promises to ourselves and to God, but failing often to keep even the most simple ones.
The good news is, God is faithful. If you skip ahead in Hosea, after God’s promises to punish Israel for their unfaithfulness, in the last chapter (14) God promises to eventually call them to repentance and forgive their sins. Not because of anything they do, but because of who he is.
I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them.
It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress; from me comes your fruit.
How good is it that our fruit comes from the Lord!? When I can remember that, it fills me with so much peace. I’m able to work on my goals and aspirations, but without the weight of the world (or my own salvation) on my shoulders.
Which brings me back to Psalm 127. The reason I chose this first verse to help shape my 2017 is because I constantly need this reminder.
There is definitely wisdom in avoiding the “bread of idleness” (it is in the book of wisdom, after all), but I don’t want to trade it for the “bread of anxious toil.” Christ came to give us himself, the bread of life, and letting him “build the house” of my life and goals is far more important to me than any other specifics.
That’s good news I want to reflect on all year long.
With hope because of Christ,
*All verses are from the ESV